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3M Paint Defender

Spray-on clear film paint protection

Oct 16, 2013

Test Mule
’87 BMW 528e

Key Features

  • Simple spray-on procedure from an aerosol can
  • Once dry, it’s virtually invisible, providing a clear layer of protection
  • Film lasts for a least one year and is easily removable
  • Low in odor and water based for easy cleanup
  • Spray-on clear film paint protection

3M paint defender kit Photo 2/13   |   3M Paint Defender


If you’ve seen or experienced what it takes to apply a clear bra to the front of a car, you can appreciate the time and effort that goes into it, not to mention the associated price tag. Good clear bras can cost $500 to $1,000 or more, but they seem like a great idea because, let’s face it, these days there’s more debris and junk being flung from truck and car tires than we care for.

Up until now, there weren’t many do-it-yourself options available; applying a clear bra meant going to a professional. But what if there were a way to get clear, bra-like protection simply by spraying it on? It sounds almost too good to be true, but thanks to the innovative minds at 3M, it’s a reality.

The 3M Paint Defender system is a spray-on liquid that dries into a clear, durable film that protects a car’s paint against road chips and nicks. This tricky formula wasn’t an overnight success; it took 3M scientists more than two years to get right. In fact, more than 248 different formulas were tested until one that offered 100 percent clarity and a seamless finish was found.

Not only that, but a lot of time went into ensuring this product was removable. Once it dries into a thin, plasticlike layer, it can be peeled off with ease. Furthermore, in terms of protection, 3M says Paint Defender has comparable results to a clear bra. On a scale from 1 to 10, Paint Defender rates a 5.5, whereas clear bras score a 7. Considering the entire Paint Defender system costs $45, the protection value is unprecedented.

What about durability? 3M officially states it will last for at least one year. The film will protect much longer, but it depends on your driving frequency, roads traveled, and climate. It’s not out of this world to think that Paint Defender will last for many years under certain circumstances. Southern states with lots of sun exposure may experience film fade after a year (which is why 3M errs on the side of caution). There are many variables in play that affect the performance and look of Paint Defender, but for the price, protection, and application, it’s hard to beat.

3M paint defender front bumper Photo 6/13   |   3M Paint Defender


Having seen, tested, and been in awe of the Paint Defender system at 3M headquarters, we needed to perform a real-world test to see if the product’s claims lived up to the hype, and we had the perfect vehicle in mind.

The BMW 528e you see before you is a daily driver with constant highway abuse, but that’s not what makes it ideal for the Paint Defender. It’s Alpina front lip has been repainted twice now due to rock chips (and shoddy prep/paintwork). This huge air dam is a magnet for rocks, and up until now, the only recourse was a yearly fresh coat to keep it looking somewhat respectable.

As with any paintjob, proper prep is crucial. A clean, free-of-debris paint surface will ensure proper adhesion of the spray-on film, but a coat of wax must first be applied, as it will allow the film to be peeled off with ease. Forget the wax and you may be in for a tedious removal process.

In the case of the front lip, prep was easy. A few screws and it was off on its own, ready for film application. However, the rest of the car would need proper masking to have its hood and mirrors sprayed. Thankfully, the bright minds at 3M came up with an application kit that includes 3M sharp-edge tape and plastic sheeting, which make for quick and hassle-free masking.

The final piece of the puzzle is a spray trigger. You can apply the Paint Defender without the trigger, but if you’ve ever sprayed an aerosol can for more than 20 seconds at a time, you know it becomes very taxing on the fingers, so this is a must-have. It comes with the kit, but cans can be purchased separately for $25 each.

After reading the instructions twice (yes, we actually read instructions) to ensure we had the proper technique down, it was on. Starting with the hood, the film lays down very evenly as long as you keep your speed and distance constant. The tricky part about the entire process is the urge to touch up and spray areas that don’t look like they’ve been coated enough. We recommend fighting that urge, and if you’ve applied it as the instructions state, you can just leave it be because the liquid will even itself out and fill in any low spots (to a certain extent).

We found out why it’s critical to keep the spray nozzle a minimum of 7 inches away from the paint when we were applying the film to the front lip. Right where the lip curves, we sprayed too much film, causing a run. Thankfully, after drying, the runs are hard to notice.

We had a similar incident on one of the mirrors: A run formed when too much film was applied. As we stated previously, it’s easy to overapply. There’s a slight learning curve to this product; it takes a few tries to figure out how much or how little to apply. On a horizontal surface like a hood, it’s not as critical as it is on vertical parts such as mirrors, front lips, and doors, where too much product will result in sags.

After waiting three-plus hours for the curing time to pass, just as advertised, the Paint Defender dried to a clear, flat finish. It’s truly remarkable to think this film came out of a can.

After about 1,000 miles of driving with Paint Defender applied, we can report that it works like a charm. The Alpina lip has not seen any paint chips, and the film on the hood as well as on the mirrors still looks like new. It’s hard to say what it will look like after a few years, but if these results are any indication, then the 3M Paint Defender system is truly a breakthrough innovation for paint protection.

We also can’t wait to see what variations of this product 3M comes up with next. Think about how awesome it would be to have colored paint films that apply and come off just like Paint Defender.

3M paint defender peel away tape Photo 7/13   |   3M Paint Defender
3M paint defender leading edge Photo 8/13   |   Peel the leading edge of the masking tape right after applying the film to get a perfect clean and crisp edge. You’ll notice the film looks opaque with lots of orange peel when it’s applied, but don’t worry, it’ll dry clear and flat.
3M paint defender running Photo 9/13   |   3M Paint Defender
3M paint defender dried run spot Photo 10/13   |   On more complex surfaces be sure not to overdo the amount of film applied, as runs can develop. You can see the run forming on the lip, but it’s best to leave it be, because once it dries, it’ll flatten out. Look closely at the corner of the mirror and you’ll see a run that’s dried. Not bad considering it looked much worse after application.
3M paint defender hood clear coated Photo 11/13   |   3M Paint Defender
3M paint defender dried front end Photo 12/13   |   Just as advertised, after three-plus hours of dry time, the Paint Defender film cures to a smooth, clear finish. It’s hard to believe this stuff comes out of an aerosol can.
3M paint defender after application Photo 13/13   |   From 5 feet you can’t even tell where the Paint Defender has been applied, but the front end and side mirrors are now better prepared to deal with the everyday hazards of the road.


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